On 19 and 20 Jan news organisations around the world carried pictures of a little Iraqi girl crying her eyes out, smeared in the blood of her just-dead parents. She was one of five brothers and sisters in the back of a car who survived the shooting of their mum and dad by US troops at a checkpoint at Tal Afar yesterday. The whole world is watching (a good chunk of it, anyway).
How much damage to US interests if this sort of thing continues? How much worse would things be in the civil war if or when they leave?
Max Hastings makes a case worth hearing in his 19 Jan article for the Guardian Julia Roberts has a better chance of winning this war. He concludes:
I do not think the US armed forces will achieve their military purposes in Iraq. The American soldiers who have become pessimistic about the campaign they are waging are probably right. But in a long historic view, Microsoft and DreamWorks could achieve a dominance of Baghdad and a power over Iraqi society that eludes George Bush and his armoured legions.
To back this up, Hastings cites Edward Luttwak:
In a recent speech to a British audience, [Luttwak] suggested that the US began to win the Vietnam war the day after its envoy was humiliatingly evacuated from the roof of the Saigon embassy in April 1975.
The military conflict was lost - but, argued Luttwak, the US began to achieve victory culturally and economically. Vietnam may still profess a commitment to communism, but in reality capitalism is taking hold at every level. American values, represented by corporatism and schools of management studies, are gaining sway over Vietnam as surely as they are every other nation possessed of education and aspirations to prosperity.
Luttwak is even more interesting in Iraq: The Logic of Disengagement, which is his contribution to the Jan/Feb edition of Foreign Affairs. The right comparison for Iraq today, says Luttwak, is not Germany or Japan in 1945 or 1946, but Spain in 1808:
On July 6, 1808, King Joseph of Spain presented a constitution that for the first time in Spain's history offered an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and the abolition of the remaining feudal privileges of the aristocracy and church. Yet the Spanish peasantry did not rise to demand the immediate implementation of the new constitution. Instead, they obeyed the priests, who summoned them to fight against the ungodly innovations of the foreign invader - for Joseph was the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte and had been placed on the Spanish throne by French troops.
The probable consequences of abandoning Iraq are so bleak...that few are willing to contemplate them. That is a mistake. It is precisely because unpredictable mayhem is so predictable that the US might be able to disengage from Iraq at little cost, or perhaps even advantageously.
The argument here is that mayhem in Iraq will do wonders in concentrating the minds of neighbouring countries - Turkey, Iran, Syria Kuwait and Saudi Arabia:
An anarchical Iraq is a far greater danger to those in or near it than to the US. It is time to collect on the difference.
It's tough. But is it love?